For the first 1500 plus years of the church prior to the Reformation, the church practiced infant baptism. There was no question concerning whether or not infants should be baptized. The question of infant baptism came after the Reformation as some followed tainted human reasoning and logic, or illogic, pointing on to self for certainty of salvation. Yet, we depend not on human history or tradition in matters spiritual. What does God say in His Word?
The Importance of Children and Child-like Faith
The following four passages are probably the same scene, but this information is so important that all three of the four Gospel writers wrote about it. In contemporary language we might say it played on three of the major networks.
1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Please note that in verse three the word translated as turn is στρέφω (strepho) which means turn, bend, twist, or convert. The NASB uses the word converted.
Here we see that Scripture affirms the saving faith of children and infants directly and indirectly, by ascribing to children the fruit and effect of faith, namely eternal life. The denial of infant faith was born out of a rationalistic understanding of faith. Thus, not only does Scripture affirm the faith of infants and children but also encourages adults to have such faith.
Mark 9:33-37, 42
33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
42“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
13And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Please note in verse thirty-seven in chapter nine and in verse fifteen of chapter ten the word translated as “receive” (the word in Greek is dechomai) which means to be given to, and in this sense dechomai is equivalent to faith.
15Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Again, please note that in verse seventeen, again the word translated as receive (dechomai) means to be given to and in this sense dechomai is equivalent to faith.
So to sum up these passages, we might make note that:
- Jesus loves the children.
- Jesus says that children have faith. Children can and do have faith, even babies have faith. They simply do not express their faith as an adult because they cannot speak the language.
- Jesus offers their faith as an example to us.
- Jesus never asks children to have faith like an adult because we as adults have learned to be skeptical, that we have to take care of ourselves, you cannot trust everyone, etc.
Other Passages Supporting Infant Baptism
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Please note that children are citizens of the nation in which they are born. No child born in any nation is not considered a citizen of some nation. Their birth certificate tells to which nation they belong. Likewise, when Jesus says to baptize all nations, children being citizens of a nation are included. Notice He does not say, baptize all nations except children.
“3(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches)” (emphasis added).
As for the mode of baptism, God does not prescribe the mode, i.e., sprinkling, immersion, or simply a few drops. I do not believe that when the dining couches were baptized, washed, that they were immersed.
“44For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
Notice that the baby heard the word of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and having heard her voice, leaped in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. Here we see the importance of a pregnant woman being in Divine Service where she and her baby might hear the Word of God and through that very Word be given faith.
“11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Here we have the comparison of baptism to circumcision. Babies were circumcised at the age of eight days old. If circumcision identified one as a member of the Jewish faith at the age of eight days, how much more should we seek to identify our children as Christian children through the sacrament of Holy Baptism at eight days or even at birth?
1 Peter 2:18-22
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (emphasis added).
“As ‘the waters of Noah’ raged, a total of eight people were saved in the ark. This number eight can signify a new beginning, as when an infant entered the covenant of circumcision on the eighth day (Gen 17:10-12). The eighth is the first day of a new week, the day of Christ’s resurrection (Mt 28:1). Thus the apostle Peter associated the salvation of the eight in Noah’s ark during the flood with the Sacrament of Baptism, ‘which now saves you . . . Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet 3:21).” (Concordia Commentary, Isaiah 40-55, R. Reed Lessing, Concordia Publishing House, © 2011, p. 642.)
When we approach the Word of God through exegesis instead of eisegesis, that is when we listen to what God says instead of attempting to put words into His mouth, the evidence for infant baptism is overwhelming. Since God’s Word declares that He gives faith, forgiveness and eternal life through Holy Baptism, nothing should keep us from baptizing our children.